Many people are writing tributes to the sports announcer Vin Scully, who died this week at 94. He was the “voice of God” for me and many kids with transistor radios when we were growing up — he was omnipresent, trustworthy, forgiving and always positive. His endless tales of players’ backgrounds were told with reverence and affection. He was a constant in my life over six decades. Beyond the famous baseball moments he was part of, I have several other enduring memories.
In 2010, I was in Phoenix for spring training. After the game, I was exiting behind the stands and happened to see him walking alone as he headed toward his car. He was dressed in a well-worn suit, and I remember thinking he looked older in person than he did on television.
In 2016, my youngest daughter, her fiancé and I made a pilgrimage to “Vin Scully Day” at Dodger Stadium where we heard him sing “Wind Beneath My Wings” to his wife and 54,000 reverent and faithful fans.
We all knew he was a very private man. I vaguely knew his first wife had died and he had remarried, but I never heard him discuss it.
The one exception came in 2008, when he was interviewed on KCET along with UCLA Coach John Wooden. At one point, the interviewer changed the topic from sports to personal challenges. He noted that Scully’s first wife had died suddenly at age 35, leaving him with three children. He’d remarried Sandra, a woman with two children of her own, and together they had one more child. Later his oldest son died in a helicopter crash at age 32. Vin was asked how he had gotten through it all.
He said creating a new family after the death of his wife while working full-time was very hard – not the amusing experience of blended families being portrayed on the “Brady Bunch” TV show at the time. He didn’t go into the loss of his son. But he concluded by saying the only way he got through it all was to “stop asking why.”
Asking “Why?” is a perennial human question.
“Why did that person have to die when they did?” we ask. The answers people find are varied. Some attribute it to the intentional act of an inscrutable God. Others theorize it must be “karma,” a kind of moral accounting system in which we inherit debits and credits from past lives that shape our personal fate. In modern times, we may look to causes that can be objectively verified, such as family history or the actions of viruses, bacteria, and natural forces. We may find fault in the way a car is designed or blame a toxin in our food supply.
We are curious, intelligent creatures, and we yearn to find answers for personal losses and tragedies. Sometimes we find them. Such answers may bring some peace, and we are reassured that the universe isn’t chaotic after all.
But satisfying answers don’t always come.
Vin’s first wife died of an accidental medical overdose. That’s explainable on one level – simple chemistry. But that doesn’t take away the heartbreak, sorrow, and unfathomable reality that one day a young wife and mother of three is alive and well and the next day she is gone.
His son died working as a helicopter pilot, which may be attributable to a simple error in judgment of a person up in the air at the helm of a large and complex machine. But the harsh reality that a remarkable young man whom you’ve loved since birth is here one day and absent the next – that will always be a shock.
Vin did, at times, talk about the importance of faith and prayer. He was raised a devout Irish Catholic and remained one his entire life. His immersion in that faith made a difference in how he endured and how he lived. But he never claimed that any of his prayers helped him find an answer to the question that apparently haunted him in the early days of his grief — why did death come to these two beloved people in such an untimely way? Vin — the gracious, wise, humane, and compassionate observer of so many human encounters — said the key for him to going on with his life was to “stop asking why.” I will remember that. And I will also remember what a joy it was to turn on a radio and hear him invite us all to pull up a chair “wherever we may be” and listen to a master storyteller at work.
Photo credit: “Dodgersway”